Big beer is still beer

Last November, 10 Barrel Brewing Co. from Bend, Oregon, sold to Anheuser-Busch. This January, Elysian Brewing from Seattle, Washington, also sold to Anheuser-Busch. People are outraged.

On 10 Barrel’s Facebook, people accuse them of being sellouts and wrote about how disappointed they are. Someone even writes, “We will miss you,” as if a person died. Elysian’s Facebook page was hit with a number of one-star reviews with people leaving mournful and angry comments. One woman wrote that she won’t go there anymore “now that the beer will suck.”

It is a scary thought that large corporations have the power to buy and take over small companies that are trying to change the way things are done. But that isn’t necessarily what is happening here.

Elysian’s website has a statement to their customers in which they talk about what changes will take place now that they are owned by Anheuser-Busch. “AB does not, and will not, decide our beer recipes or dictate changes to our beer. AB is not sending in people to take over, and our current teams are staying intact…We will probably see some changes at the brewery in the form of new equipment, access to new (quality) ingredients, and educational opportunities for our brewers.” That doesn’t sound so bad to me.

According to the Brewers Association, small and independent craft breweries “contributed $33.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012.” And that figure is only going to continue rising. Meanwhile, there is a noticeable shift away from beers like Budweiser, at least in Portland. Maybe that’s why Budweiser got super defensive and felt the need to imply that craft beer drinkers were sissies with too much free time on their hands in one of their Super Bowl commercials. “The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer.” Oh, okay.

But really, Anheuser-Busch isn’t trying to totally eradicate craft brewing. In fact, I don’t think they have the means to do that. My guess is that they’re just trying to survive in a market that increasingly favors craft beer over domestic beer and get a slice of that $33.9 billion. I don’t think I can really fault them for being a successful company.

With the financial backing of Anheuser-Busch, craft breweries can do anything. They will be given the resources to make and distribute the best beer they are capable of producing.

People like to think that there’s some major philosophical difference between a small brewery making creamy stouts and the bitterest of IPAs with funky art on their labels and a large brewery widely distributing their generic cans of mildly alcoholic water. But really, it’s all beer. Beer for different types of people and different types of occasions. Sure, small breweries are offering people the chance to try new things (I mean, who doesn’t love the giant wall of beer at Fred Meyer) and flex their beer tasting muscles (“Mmmm, this IRA has a clean finish with hints of…nutmeg? Innnnnteresting!). But imagine what craft breweries like 10 Barrel or Elysian will be able to do with the financial resources of Anheuser-Busch.

There will still be those small breweries who refuse to sell out to the big guys, because who likes money? And I’ll continue to support them along with 10 Barrel and Elysian and the other craft brewers who sell to Anheuser-Busch in the future. And who am I kidding, I’ll probably continue to buy PBR most of the time anyway—I’m a broke college kid!

If selling to Anheuser-Busch means that breweries get to make more beer and sell it on a larger market, then I’m happy for them and for my ever-present (no matter how many planks and crunches I do) but much adored beer belly.